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Iranian Protests Intensify; Michael Vick Cheered in Atlanta

Aired December 7, 2009 - 15:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

RICK SANCHEZ, CNN ANCHOR (voice-over): Protesters in Iran ramp up their defiance, calling their leader a murderer.

Scientists fire back at those accusing them of tweaking global warming stats.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Some naturally find it inconvenient to accept its inevitability.

SANCHEZ: We're live in Copenhagen with both sides of the story.

We follow the money and have told you about lobbyists and money in Washington. Look who else is saying it.

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARIZONA: Their lobbyist is very well reimbursed, I think $1.7 million.

CROWD: We love Vick! We love Vick!

SANCHEZ: Michael Vick cheered in Atlanta. But wait. He doesn't play for Atlanta.

We use Twitter to connect you to newsmakers today. Our access is your access on your national conversation for Monday, December 7, 2009.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SANCHEZ: And hello again, everybody. I'm Rick Sanchez with the next generation of news. This is a conversation, it's not a speech and as always it's your turn to get involved.

All right, let me show you a picture right there. Inside that White House right now, President Obama's preparing to talk to General Stanley McChrystal, who commands all U.S. and NATO troops in Afghanistan. He's also going to be talking to Karl Eikenberry. He's the U.S. ambassador to Afghanistan.

Again, this is taking place as we speak, that meeting about to get started. And, if there is news, we are going to bring it to you right away during this hour. Here's what we know.

We now know which troops are going to be going to Afghanistan first, how many, when and from where. It's no coincidence that the chairman of the Joint Chiefs spoke today at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina. Why?

Well, that's where the 1,500 troops, the first ones to go, from an infantry battalion task force are packing for deployment before New Year's Day. And in just a couple of months, that 1,500 is going to turn into 13,000 or so troops, if the Pentagon sticks to its timetable.

This is where this gets a little bit controversial. That timetable has, as you know, an end date. And that sticks in the craw of a lot of folks who say that announcing a pullout date is just plain dumb. Here's the secretary of defense.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ROBERT GATES, U.S. SECRETARY OF DEFENSE: Balancing a demonstration of resolve with also communicating a sense of urgency to the Afghan government that they must step up to the plate in terms of recruiting their soldiers, training their soldiers and getting their soldiers into the field first to partner with us and our ISAF partners and then on their own.

So, it's an effort to try and let the Afghans know that while we intend to have a relationship and support them for a long time, the nature of that relationship is going to begin to change in July of 2011.

And as the security component comes down, the economic development and the political relationship will become a bigger part of the relationship. We are not going to abandon Afghanistan, like we did in 1989, but the nature of the relationship will change.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SANCHEZ: That is the plan. There are obstacles, though, as you might imagine. Here's an important note, speaking of obstacles.

The Turkish prime minister, he was in Washington today. He told President Obama no on any more troops from their country, even though Turkey is a part of NATO.

Here now, CNN's Barbara Starr with a look at how American generals are trying now to make a difference in Afghanistan, seriously here, one handshake at a time.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: We are continuing to travel throughout eastern Afghanistan, having a look at the security situation on the ground. We went to a location about 30 miles outside of Kabul, the capital. This is an area called Logar Province. I was there a year ago. And the security situation was so dire you could not walk the ground. Everyone traveled in the U.S. military by armored vehicles, heavily armed troops.

Today it is a different place. We were able to go with a security detail, but on foot. On patrol through a very busy marketplace talking to shopkeepers, looking at produce, stopping along the way. This is an area where a small number of U.S. troops have worked with Afghan National Police and have had some impact. they have been able to at least drive the Taliban and the insurgents out of this one area, and as a consequence, it is a thriving marketplace, business is growing in this region.

But that's not to say that there aren't problems in eastern Afghanistan. Commanders estimate there are as many as 4,000 insurgents in this four-province area. They have seen foreign fighters. They are seeing IEDs that are larger and more deadly. When the additional U.S. troops come to Afghanistan, a number of them will come here. They're expected to heavily focus on training those Afghan forces so they can do a better job of eventually taking over.

Barbara Starr, CNN, Bagram.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SANCHEZ: All right, I told you about Rick's List. Let's do this now. I have been telling you about all the different -- hold on. Come back to me, if you could. Come back to me.

All right. I have been telling you about Rick's List and what we continue to do is try and follow up on all the different things that the people that we talk to bring us reaction on what's going on. All right. Let's go to that over here if we can now.

This is Mullen just moments ago before he arrived at Camp Lejeune, as I had told that he was in Camp Lejeune, told soldiers at Fort Campbell today that they will play a key role in Afghanistan strategy. And then he says, off now to Camp Lejeune. So, there you have it.

By the way, you are going to want to see this. We have got Gary Berntsen with me live tomorrow right here 3:00 Eastern. If you don't know him, he's a 20-plus CIA operator. He is the guy who was told to go in and kill Osama bin Laden. And he's the guy who will tell you how bin Laden got away at Tora Bora. We have got a lot to talk about and you will see him, me live tomorrow.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MCCAIN: Their lobbyist is very well reimbursed, I think $1.7 million.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SANCHEZ: All right. That was I believe John McCain. We have made some calls to Senator McCain's office and I'm going to tell you who he's talking about, lobbyists, campaign contributions. Does this stuff ever stop? I am going to follow the money for you again.

Also, what do these icy paths on the world's most famous peaks reveal about the climate change debate? A trip to Mount Everest as international experts convene in Copenhagen. Also, don't forget the other way to participate in this national conversation. You call us in the United States. The number is 1-877- 742-5751.

I will be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SANCHEZ: I'm Rick Sanchez. Welcome back. Sorry about some of the confusion we're having so far.

One of the problems we're having today, I will just be transparent about this, is that -- two things, really. We're now doing Rick's List, which I have explained to you on many occasions. That's where we give you access to people who are relevant to stories and they are reacting to the stories as we are putting them on the air from all over the world.

Today's when we are unveiling it from Washington. The problem is, just as we were getting ready to go on the air, Twitter went down for repairs. So, there was no way we can do our Twitter board, as we were trying to get information from Twitter to bring to you. But, obviously, you don't care.

The bottom line is, you want us to bring you that information, and that's what we are going to be doing.

Let me tell you about something that is else going on right now. For months now, I have been telling you how special interests are working to shape health care legislation to their own advantage with money, lots of money, as I have reported to you, in the form of campaign contributions to lawmakers to get them to vote for or against -- mostly against -- the health care reform.

In fact, I told you the money to influence this bill is on track to set a record, the most ever in the history of legislation in this country. Here's another example of that. The Senate is expected to vote any time now on an amendment that is also going to let Americans pay less for their drugs by importing them from other countries, so you will be able to save money.

The sponsor of this bill is Democratic Senator Byron Dorgan. He says that this measure alone can save consumers, you and me and my mom and dad, $100 billion.

But now I want you to hear what Republican Senator John McCain has to say, as he accuses the Obama administration, in this case, of selling out to the drug companies, who don't want that measure to pass.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MCCAIN: The deal that PhRMA cut, which was reported on the front page of several newspapers around America, that in return for their support of the legislation, the administration would oppose drug re- importation from Canada. I know this, that the administration and PhRMA are pulling out the stops to try to stop legislation, which is clearly in the best interest of people who have to buy prescription drugs, because they are much less expensive when they come from another country such as Canada. I mean, there is no way you can disprove that statement. There is evidence of it.

So, they are pulling out all the stops. We will see who wins here, the special interests, obviously the pharmaceutical companies. I saw a thing the other day their lobbyist is very well reimbursed, I think $1.7 million. And, of course, their campaign contributions and the ads that they are running, I have no idea how many millions of dollars, in supporting, guess what, this plan, because they have done very well in this deal.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SANCHEZ: So, good for John McCain, right, talking about lobbyists who are giving people or giving campaign contributions and people who are getting money in this entire system that we have often criticized.

Here's a question: Is the debate being influenced by drug company money, just as it's been influenced by health care provider money? And are Democrats and Republicans getting that money, both, not just Republicans, not just Democrats, but both?

In a word, yes. We have been able to determine that the lobbyist, by the way, that Senator McCain is referring to is none other than former Republican Congressman Billy Tauzin. He's the president of the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America. Funny how people in Washington go from lawmaker to lobbyist to lawmaker to lobbyist, isn't it?

All right, so, how much money has now been spent to influence the health care debate as of mid-November? This is information that's -- you should know. More than $600 million spent to influence this debate from people with a dog in the fight.

We follow the money, and we will continue to make that a regular segment. By the way, talk about Rick's List now. You know how we are constantly getting in information from people relevant to stories on this list that we started just last week?

Look what we just got. Go to open secrets over here, D.C., all the way across if you could, Robert. See that? This is from OpenSecrets.org, an organization we have used here and have vetted in the past. They have sent us this regarding the story we just told about John McCain.

"Our research indicates that John McCain has received $1.6 million in campaign contributions from lobbyists over his career." Just thought you should know.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The ice is going to be moving much more. So, when climbers are in there, accidents are going to occur and more deaths are going to occur.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SANCHEZ: If climate change is indeed real, is it about to get deadly? The theories, the skeptics and, of course, the e-mail scandal coming out of Europe.

And, of course, with officials from all over the world in Copenhagen, we are going to be using Rick's List to try and find out what they are saying today, and when they say it, you will be the first to see it. Our access is your access.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SANCHEZ: Welcome back.

You know, we have been following on Rick's List a lot of the situations that are going on in Europe. You have heard a lot about it, this controversy over these hacked e-mails that reveal that there may have been some shenanigans going on with some of the leading scientists over in Europe.

And, certainly, the right is making a lot of hay out of it, and so is the left. We have been getting a lot of tweets on this just from regular folk, but we are also getting some people who follow this because it's part of their job to follow it.

Let me show you what we do with Rick's List, first of all, because you have access to it. My access is your access. Go ahead, Robert, if you could, and go over to the screen and you will see what we're talking about.

There's the regular Rick's List. Over there on the right, you can click and you will get to any one of those lists that we have created. One is a list on experts on Afghanistan. Another one is a list on celebrities. Another one is a list on experts and people who are talking about the Tiger Woods situation.

Then there is a list on global warming and climate change. And that's the one that we are into today. These are all people who are relevant or have something to do with it.

Now, let's go to couple of the people that we have been hearing from today so far.

This is Alex Steffen. He says: "Note, please, hacked e-mails haven't cast doubt on climate science. They're a pretext for expressing existing opposition to climate action."

Now, he's calling this a pretext. Let's go to the next one, if we possibly can.

This is from Grist. Grist is one of the biggest news environmental blogs that there is. He sends this to me, or they send this to me, and they say: "It strengthens the hand of skeptics, though it doesn't change science. Not as if glaciers have been paid off to melt."

So, there's two opinions on this coming in as we speak. That's Rick's List. We will continue to bring it to you.

It's Copenhagen day. The U.N. climate has started. Even before President Obama gets on the plane, the White House is declaring that greenhouse gases and carbon dioxide are officially endangering you and me and all of our families. It's a debate, a loud one.

And, look, we're not going to settle the global warming argument here on CNN, but I can take you to places where there is no way to deny that things are getting hotter. Scientists are not entirely sure why, and people are getting worried.

OK. Let's watch this report together now. It's from as far as CNN headquarters can get. It's literally the top of the world, where I'm about to take you, which say is some melting, yes. Ice on Mount Everest is melting. Roll it.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JAMES MATES, ITN REPORTER (voice-over): No Sherpa will lead an expedition on to Mount Everest without first asking the permission of and making offerings to the mountain herself.

They take this ceremony or (INAUDIBLE) extremely seriously and with good reason. Even as prayers were being said, an avalanche ripped down the slopes of Everest, just a few hundred meters from where we would be climbing.

Of all the glaciers in the Himalayas, this, the Khumbu, is the most celebrated as it lies on the route to the top of the world, but our guide, Dawa Steven, Sherpa, showed us that the fame of the Khumbu had not saved it from the degradations of sun and warm air.

DAWA STEVEN, MOUNTAINEER: We are in the middle of the icefall. It's winter. And every afternoon, when the sun comes out, the ice melts and it creates big puddles, and then it flows away. Now, this is very unusual.

MATES (on camera): We're more than 5,500 meters.

STEVEN: Right.

MATES: You wouldn't believe that ice would melt up here at this time of year.

STEVEN: Exactly. But it is and we're standing on it.

MATES (voice-over): We are just tiny dots in the vastness of the Khumbu. It is a huge and slow-moving river of ice, but on a slope this steep where a river will become a waterfall, the glacier becomes an icefall. Deep crevasses open between enormous blocks of ice, to each unpredictable, each to be crossed precariously on the way to the top.

If the melting continues climbing, this icefall may no longer be an option.

STEVEN: The ice is going to be moving much more, so, when climbers are in there, accidents are going to occur and more deaths are going to occur.

MATES: And presumably similar things happening on other mountains in the Himalayas.

STEVEN: Oh, yes, everywhere, not just on Everest, but if you look all around us, all the glaciers, they are all melting, and it's all going to be the same.

MATES: Our ambition had been to climb to the top of the Khumbu to where mountaineers established camp two, but as we approached camp one, the weather took a decided turn for the worse.

Fifty- and 60-mile-an-hour winds battered our tent all night.

(on camera): How much longer this tent is going to last is anyone's guess.

(voice-over): By dawn, it was clear the only safe option was to head down and fast. We couldn't see for ourselves the condition of the glacier higher up, but Dawa Steven has been there very recently.

STEVEN: At 8,000 meters, at the south (INAUDIBLE) this year in the spring we saw running water, I mean, running water on the surface at 8,000 meters. Further up, even at the summit itself, on the summit ridge, crevasses are opening up. So, the ice is becoming heated up, and then it expands, and then these crevasses are opening up.

MATES: Which could have implications at much lower altitudes, the rivers and aquifers, if the glaciers and their annual meltwater disappear.

(on camera): Locally, the situation is serious. Globally, it could be a catastrophe. It is hard to believe standing here high in the Khumbu icefall that a glacier like this could simply disappear. Some (INAUDIBLE) say such a scenario would be a very long way off, but others are not so relaxed and say that on the precautionary principle alone, it is something that the world and Asia in particular must start preparing for.

James Mates, ITV News on Mount Everest.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SANCHEZ: Cushy trips to foreign destinations bought and paid for with lobbyists' dollars. I told you I would be following the money on this newscast. And, today, "The New York Times" is tracking more than 1,000 trips by lawmakers that are iffy at best when it comes to an ethics rule.

So, I'm going to talk to the reporter who investigated that at "The New York Times." We're going to have him right here.

Also, when it comes to appearances being everything, how does it look when a U.S. senator suggests his girlfriend for a top job? How does that look? I will be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)

CALLER: Hey, Rick. This is Peter from Crescent City.

And with the McCain deal, it's not just how it's done. There's billions spent, and it's just how it's done, if he mentions all the billions, but he doesn't. So, it's politics as usual.

(END AUDIO CLIP)

SANCHEZ: Speaking of politics as usual.

Welcome back. I'm Rick Sanchez from the world headquarters of CNN.

What would you do if you were responsible for filling a job opening and the most qualified person for the job were your girlfriend? That scenario is generating a buzz in Washington since it was revealed Saturday that Democrat Senator Max Baucus recommended his own girlfriend for the position of U.S. attorney in his own state.

Ultimately, she didn't get the job because her relationship to the senator was getting serious and they, as a couple, decided it would be best to withdraw her name from the running.

But here's the thing. The girlfriend, Melodee Hanes, was also an employee of the senator. She was separated from her husband and he says he was separated from his wife at the time. Here's what he told us.

In 2008, he submitted the names of six candidates for U.S. attorney to his vetter. That vetter came back with just three names who were viable enough to go on to the White House. And one of those was Ms. Hanes.

Here now, Senator Baucus speaking to CNN's senior congressional correspondent, Dana Bash, this weekend.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DANA BASH, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Did the vetter know about your relationship and the White House?

SEN. MAX BAUCUS (D-MT), FINANCE COMMITTEE CHAIRMAN: I do not know if the vetter did -- I don't know if the vetter did or didn't. But the point is that, when it became apparent, the relationship was -- was going to be close, then it made sense for it not to continue.

(END VIDEO CLIP) SANCHEZ: The vetter did or didn't.

Ms. Hanes now works at the Justice Department and lives with Senator Baucus in Washington. Needless to say, Republicans are calling for an ethics investigation. We will keep you posted.

Iran's government doesn't want you to see these pictures. We do, students protesting the outcome of the presidential election on an important date in their history.

Also up next, members of Congress traveling far and wide, but who's paying for it?

Don't forget, you can also join us in the national conversation whenever you visit Atlanta. Just call 1-877-4CNN-TOUR or check us out online at CNN.com/tour. And you could be a part of the show right here in the studio with me.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SANCHEZ: We're going to continue to get more information on the stories unwinding out of Washington. We told you moments ago about this controversy involving Senator Max Baucus and his girlfriend. Well, we've got more information.

Let's go to Rick's List if we can.

OpenSecrets.org sent me these tweets about Max Baucus. Ready? "Melodee Hanes, that's the girlfriend, donated $940 to Baucus in 2002. She has also made contributions to John Kerry and several other Democratic interests."

Now, let's go to the next one about this. They also say, "We found Baucus has extensive history of former staffers scoring lucrative lobbying jobs, 26 in all."

There's useful information from OpenSecrets.org that we're able to bring you.

All right. We make it our business on this show, as you know and as you can see right there, to follow the money because it's your money. And it should be your business. I've told you about campaign contributions, but what about junkets? Those are those all expenses paid trips for politicians that are more often than not about influencing them more than just about anything else. So, why are they allowed?

"The New York Times" has just concluded an investigation into junkets and it has turned up more than a thousand questionable trips.

Eric Lichtblau was one of the reporters who worked on the story and he's good enough to join us now.

Eric, how are you doing?

ERIC LICHTBLAU, NEW YORK TIMES: Good. How are you? SANCHEZ: Thanks for being with us.

Are there supposed to be rules...

LICHTBLAU: Pleasure.

SANCHEZ: ... to curb this, by the way? Aren't there?

LICHTBLAU: Well, there are. Yes. In fact, there were new rules put in place just a couple of years ago in 2007 after -- you may remember at the height of the Jack Abramoff scandal, the disgraced lobbyist.

SANCHEZ: Right.

LICHTBLAU: You probably saw pictures of Abramoff taking Tom DeLay and other lawmakers to Scotland on golf junkets and things like that.

SANCHEZ: Among other places.

LICHTBLAU: Yes, exactly. These became kind of the symbol of Washington abuses and there are new rules put in place. And that's why we started looking at a bunch of the trips that have taken place under this new regime. And what we found is that a lot of the -- a lot of the rules are so full of holes and contradictions that members are getting awfully creative in basically evading the new restrictions and finding ways to get what amounts to financed trips.

SANCHEZ: I imagine what they do is they say this is a very important business for my jurisdiction and my citizens need to possibly do potential business with Liechtenstein, right, which happens to be one of the places that's mentioned in the story.

LICHTBLAU: Yes. Sometimes, but a lot of times, they do not even make that -- make that assertion. It's just an educational symposium or conference happens to be held in Paris or London or Hawaii or the Caribbean.

SANCHEZ: And what are these...

(CROSSTALK)

SANCHEZ: Let me just stop you. What are these really? What do I as a citizen need to understand? And I'm sure not in all cases, but in most cases, what are they really?

LICHTBLAU: They run the gamut. There are some that are seen as truly educational forums that bring together leading thinkers from around the world. There are others which seem to be just chances for lobbyists and executives to sit on the same panels as members of Congress, sometimes paying -- in one case look at -- lobbyists paying $18,000 to go to at -- to go to a conference in Israel with members of Congress. And the fact that members of Congress were there was billed as part of the attraction of this, to get access to this elite cadre of power brokers. SANCHEZ: Now, that was really that was Representative Ileana Ros-Lehtinen who went on that I believe, right?

LICHTBLAU: Yes. Right, yes.

SANCHEZ: Who I've dealt with and known and covered for many years. Is there an accusation that she or any of these people are doing what wrong then by being there?

LICHTBLAU: Well, the possible violation of the new rules -- for instance in the case of Congresswoman Ros-Lehtinen is that there were lobbyists that were involved in planning that trip. This came at the invitation of a New York company that had a mission statement with invitation, "Dear Congresswoman Ros-Lehtinen, Dear Senator Ben Nelson -- who came -- "We would love to have you for this exciting lavish event."

Lobbyists are not supposed to be involved in making those invitations anymore. They're not supposed to be involved in planning those events.

So, the fact that they were involved on its face at least appears to have been a violation. And there are many other instances that we found, again, where lobbyists played either an upfront role or a behind-the-scenes role in financing the trips and underwriting the trips -- oftentimes with the money passing through nonprofits that seemed to have been set up for no other reason than to finance trips.

SANCHEZ: And lavish is the key word there, by the way.

Eric Lichtblau, he's reporter with "The New York Times" -- as usual, you work for "The New York Times," so I'm sure you've heard it a million times, good work, good journalism. Thanks.

LICHTBLAU: Thank you. Thank you very much.

SANCHEZ: By the way, we contacted the offices of Representatives Sensenbrenner, Davis and Ros-Lehtinen, who are all mention in this report, as I mentioned moments ago with Ileana Ros-Lehtinen. We haven't received any replies yet from the Representatives Sensenbrenner or Davis.

But Representative Ros-Lehtinen did have this to say, quote, "My trip to Israel in 2008 was approved in advance by the House Committee on Standards of and was not at taxpayer expense." Still quoting, "The trip provided me with the opportunity to discuss critical security issues with top Israeli officials. At no time during the trip was I lobbied," stop quote.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I think it's silly when it every place else and these people have been raised with it forever.

(END VIDEO CLIP) SANCHEZ: No Christmas party, no Hanukkah, no holiday to be commemorated -- nothing of it has to do having to do any kind of religion. Why are the hallmarks of the holidays being removed from some schools in this country?

Also, here is a case of a woman who just wouldn't let it go. I'm referring to this train passenger and her purse. You're going to see it right there -- oh, no.

We'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SANCHEZ: A short note about what's happening in Iran's capital today. Look at the pics. Again, people, mostly young people in these cases, are filling the streets. They are shouting things against the government, like "Death to the dictator," talking about their President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. They are slashing with riot police and those armed militia types, the ones we told you about in the past, called the Basiji in Tehran, who are trying to break up the protest and the protesters and really just, you know, shut them down.

We are replying -- we're relying right now on witnesses to try and bring us as much information they can. An amateur video like this one you're seeing right here. Why? Well, because the Iranian government has told CNN that their camera crews need to stay away.

We are banned from covering these protests. We cannot take pictures, we cannot ask questions. So, we are relying on these kinds of videos to come to us. And we guarantee you we'll keep trying to bring them to you.

These students groups are using almost any occasion to protest this year's presidential election, they say was rigged and unfair and illegitimate.

All right. Next, Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa -- Bah Humbug? All right. We're being told that there is a school that says -- no, can't have it, kibosh, sorry about that but we're not going to celebrate that during this time of the year because the holidays are -- or a celebration of the holidays would be unconstitutional.

What do you think of that?

Stay with us. I'll be right back.

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)

CALLER: Hey, Rick, this is Jeff from Nashville. And schools forbidding a Christmas party? I can understand why they're trying to tip-toe around these things, but, come on, it's Santa Claus, not Jesus.

(END AUDIO CLIP)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) (BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)

CALLER: Hey, Rick. This is Johanna from Virginia. I think that the Christmas parties need to be banned in school. They are too religious. Everyone would not like if we were having parties for Buddhists, for Muslims, for Jews. How come we can only have Christian parties at school?

(END AUDIO CLIP)

SANCHEZ: It's beginning to look a lot like -- every other day of the year at one elementary school in Connecticut. You won't find a single Santa Claus, you won't find a single reindeer, you won't find a single menorah, you won't find a decorated tree -- you will find school officials saying the holidays are officially too complicated to celebrate these days, not to mention they are thinking maybe it might mess with the Constitution.

But getting rid of the holidays at a school? What do you, guys, think of that?

We've got a -- we've got our group here. They're visiting with us right now. This is the Inside the Conversation Tour.

Give me a -- give me a hand up if you agree with this school's policy that we shouldn't have celebrations like this? Give me a hand up if you disagree with the school's policy.

All right. We've got five of six disagreeing.

All right. Now, all of us together, you six and me, let's watch this report. It's from WTNH and reporter Erin Cox.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ERIN COX, WTNH CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): You won't see a holiday decorations on the windows or inside on the walls at Waterbury's Walsh Elementary School. The school does not display any secular nor religious symbols of Christmas. That means no Santa Clauses, no Christmas trees, and no classroom celebrations.

JOAN D'ANGELO, GRANDPARENT: Kind of silly when it's everyplace else. And these people have been raised with this forever.

COX: Rodney Parker, the parent liaison at the school says it's been this way for a few years and he's gotten no complaints.

RODNEY PARKER, PARENT LIASON: I haven't heard a parent complain about anything. So, I don't know where this came from.

COX: It's not just at the Walsh School. Waterbury asks all its school principals to be aware of its multicultural community and not create situation where some students may be offended. A statement from Superintendent David Snead reads in part, "Student assemblies or classroom parties need to celebrate all holidays if they are to be held. Displays also need to be all inclusive." There is a school-wide winter celebration at Walsh where each student is given a gift.

PARKER: We have singing. Kids sing Christmas songs. They sing Hanukkah songs. And it's all -- it's all-inclusive thing.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SANCHEZ: Look at this. She's not going to let it go. Now, somebody else is in trouble because she wouldn't give up her purse. In fact, two people -- and as I told you, you can come here and visit us at least once a week. There's the crowd right behind you. Give me a shot of them as we go to break, if you possibly can guys.

Wave, folks. Hello.

We'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SANCHEZ: We got reaction coming in on the story I was just telling you about. Let's go to Rick's List. First, you'll see the list in its entirety. You can click on anytime you want.

There it is, all the folks who are relevant to any particular story. The story we're following right now is the one out of Copenhagen. Speaking of Copenhagen, guess what? We just got this in.

This is from Kate Sheppard. She's the environmental blogger for "Mother Jones," a left-leaning publication, as you probably know. She writes this to us, "The emails" -- those are those hacked e-mails -- "the e-mails are a distraction from a very real problem pushed by skeptics and perpetuated by the media's ignorance of the issue." Again, that's Kate Sheppard, environmental blogger from "Mother Jones."

All right. Let's do this now. The star of "Saturday Night Live" this week, Rihanna, known most of all lately known for getting beat up by her boyfriend. That's a story of a woman getting beat up by a man, according to police, which is obviously never funny.

But what about a man getting beat up by the woman? That's interesting but that's take on NBC's "Saturday Night Live" this weekend -- and it's "Fotos."

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(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: For all of those who have supported me over the years, I offer my profound apology for these multiple transgressions.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Multiple? So it happened more than once?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Did I say multiple? Because... UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This just in, Tiger Woods is back in the hospital.

(LAUGHTER)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Apparently just hours after a press conference, where he confessed to multiple transgressions, Woods had an accident in his home, where he fell down a flight of stairs, then inadvertently threw himself through a plate glass window.

(LAUGHTER)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Woods has just been released, and he is about to give a statement to the press. (INAUDIBLE).

(LAUGHTER)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Wow, I've been really clumsy this week.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SANCHEZ: Funny? Yes. Double standard? Most definitely. Is it more noticeable because of the fact that Rihanna was their featured guest this weekend? Absolutely. Is timing everything? Yes. Enough with the questions? OK, fine. I'll stop.

Boston now, a woman trying to catch the subway, a door closes on her arm and her purse is stuck inside. But instead of opening the door, the conductor takes off. Why? Because he heard the station attendant give the all-clear. The woman, as you can see, runs alongside the train. She's trying to free her purse. She ends up slamming into a wall. She's injured, by not seriously.

Here's the upshot. The station attendant fired, the conductor suspended for 10 days. The woman? Bruised.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CROWD: We love Vick.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SANCHEZ: "We love Michael Vick." Atlanta now crowds of Falcon fans cheering on Michael Vick. But wait a minute, he doesn't play for Atlanta. He plays for the Philadelphia Eagles, who were playing against the Falcons. The Eagles crushed the Falcons and then sent Vick in to do some mop-up, and boy did he.

Vick's fans say they like him and make no apologies for cheering him on. Vick's detractors say those aren't real Falcon fans.

Either way, Vick is again the talk of the town in Atlanta today.

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SANCHEZ: All right. Here's a couple of serious questions that I think the American people want to know the answers to. Where is Mullah Omar? Where's Zawahiri? Where is Osama bin Laden?

That's next.

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SANCHEZ: Welcome back.

I want to tell you now about what we're going to be doing for you tomorrow. This is important. It maybe a little bit too gruesome for some of you. You may want to look away.

This involves livestock, pigs specifically. Those are what you call downer pigs, by the way. Not healthy enough to stand on their own, not too sick though to go to the slaughterhouse and end up in your grocery store.

Tomorrow, a CNN exclusive that we're going to bring you right here. We're going to look at how these pigs are permitted to stay in the food chain. It may trouble some of you, but it's also important to know, since it's something that your loved ones may very well be eating.

All right. That's for tomorrow. Let's talk about today.

Octavia Nasr is joining me now. You notice she's always been one of my favorites. And you also know that she is for us here at CNN, a prized person. She's our senior editor of, what, Middle Eastern affairs? Is that what we call it?

OCTAVIA NASR, SR. EDITOR, MIDEAST AFFAIRS: It sounds good.

SANCHEZ: It seems like we have different titles for everybody over here.

The important part is you know the region, you know what's going on. And a lot of people -- now that we learned today that the first 1,500 troops are going to be heading to Afghanistan.

As Americans, are you guys with me over there? Don't you want to know what's the situation on the ground? What are we getting ready to see?

And you know what I want to know? I'm serious. You know what I want to know? Where is Ayman al-Zawahiri? Where is Mullah Omar? Where is Osama bin Laden? Because that's the reason we went to war to begin with.

So, let's start there -- bin Laden.

NASR: And, of course, if I knew where they were, you'll be the first one to know.

SANCHEZ: No. I know we don't know...

NASR: Right. SANCHEZ: But maybe I asked that somewhat rhetorically in that, we should at least know. First of all, we should have either killed them or imprisoned them when we went to war. But all three of them are out there talking about us every day, and frankly, I believe most people watching us right are troubled by that.

NASR: Many people are troubled by that. They ask the question all the time? Where are they? Why aren't they captured? Why aren't they killed?

This week, actually, we're marking a very important anniversary, the Tora Bora anniversary. That's as close as the U.S. got to nabbing Osama bin Laden. He even talked about it. He left a will, saying that it's over, that he's done with, and he wants to die as a martyr. And yet since then, he's been on the run.

How do we know he's on the run? He sends messages. He posts messages.

SANCHEZ: Let me just stop you real quick because I want to get through as much of this as possible. Let's start with Osama bin Laden. The BBC reported last week that they had sources who said that he was in part of Afghanistan, not Pakistan -- Afghanistan -- which would be contrary to everything else that we've been hearing.

Do you buy that report? I mean, is it legitimate?

NASR: The problem is, it is legitimate, but all intelligence is pointing to that region. But when you think about the region, Rick, anyone should get a map right now and take a look at that region. This is a rugged, no-man's-land. This is a region where it's hard to say this is Pakistan, this is Afghanistan. This is a place why Osama bin Laden can hide in those regions.

But then there are other rugged regions. On the border with China, for example. Some intelligence is saying, you know, this is where he is, and this is a place where a human can't get there, you can only get there on the back of a donkey. And this is why it's so hard to get them if this is where they're hiding.

SANCHEZ: But the frustrating part is it's not just him, it's Mullah Omar. It's Dr. Ayman Zawahiri. He's the guy who started the Muslim Brotherhood. The Muslim Brotherhood was really the precursor to al Qaeda.

It seems like we never got a handle on those guys. Do we know where any of those two fellows are?

NASR: No one knows where they were.

(CROSSTALK)

SANCHEZ: Mullah Omar, by the way, for the viewers who don't know, he's the guy who started the Taliban movement in Afghanistan and made it -- he's essentially the leader of the country we attacked. NASR: Absolutely. He is the leader of the Taliban and he seems to be able to send out messages, you know, to his supporters. And, of course, the Taliban are making a resurgence in Afghanistan. They're able to attack.

SANCHEZ: So, is he still in Pakistan with, we presume, somewhere with Osama bin Laden? And so is Zawahiri?

NASR: Well, here's...

SANCHEZ: Separate caves or same caves?

NASR: I think they're in separate caves.

(LAUGHTER)

SANCHEZ: I'm very facetious, of course, but it doesn't...

NASR: No. But I'll you why I believe and many experts who follow al Qaeda and Taliban believe that they're separate. We look at their messages. The messages that we're receiving from them...

SANCHEZ: Nine seconds.

NASR: ... are different.

SANCHEZ: Let me hold you. Let me hold you on the message because I've got to go to Wolf and he gets mad when I go to him too late.

It's his show. Wolf Blitzer in "THE SITUATION ROOM" as you see him on "Saturday Night Live." Here's Wolf.